Movies: Under the Sea 3D / Dolphins

I had originally selected Dolphinsas the IMAX movie to watch this afternoon because I thought we had already seen Under the Sea 3D. But I noticed today that Under the Sea 3Dhad just been released last month. Looking through a list of previously released IMAX movies, I realized that what we saw previously must have been Deep Sea 3D and Into the Deep 3D. (I guess underwater IMAX movies are pretty popular.) So we went with the double-feature pricing and went to both movies.

Dolphinswas first, which was good because it wasn’t 3D and not quite as fun to watch. (I always like to save the best for last.) It was very interesting, but it was as much about the humans who are studying dolphin behavior and communication as about the dolphins themselves. The huge IMAX screen is wonderful for majestic vistas or for close-ups of rarely seen wildlife. It isn’t so impressive for watching humans talk about their work.

Their work is very interesting, though, especially the work of Dr. Kathleen Dudzinski. She developed a mobile video/acoustic recorder which she can use underwater, to capture both the sight and sound of dolphins communicating with one another. By setting the underwater microphones a couple feet apart, she is able to determine the direction the sounds came from and match it with the video of the dolphin making the sounds. By correlating sounds with the animal’s “body language” she can begin to understand what sounds represent a greeting, for instance.

Even more intriguing, she discovered that by slowing down the audio on playback, she could detect many more sounds that had been audible at normal speed. Analyzing the patterns of sounds, Dudzinski says they are remarkably similar to the pattern of human languages. Who knows what remarkable things they are saying to one another with their chirps, clicks, and whistles?

It’s not too surprising, considering the keen sense of hearing they must have to converse like that underwater, that they use echolocation to navigate. This built-in sonar also enables them to detect food (i.e. fish) hiding under the ocean floor. Even more interesting, I learned that dolphins sleep with one eye closed at a time. This allows one side of the brain to sleep, while the other side can continue to watch for predators.

Even more interesting, in some ways, was what I learned later, at the film’s website, about how the film was made. The type of camera used to make an IMAX movie weighs 100 pounds. In order to use it underwater, it has to be protected with a waterproof housing which weighs another 150 pounds. Each film magazine weighs 10 pounds – and can record for a total of only 3 minutes!

The crew spends relatively little of their time actually filming. They spend hours just finding the dolphins, then getting the bulky equipment into the water (one time the camera slipped and just barely missed hitting the cinematographer in the head), then they film in brief spurts (depending on what the dolphins choose to do, how the currents affect the camera, and when the three minutes of film run out). Afterward they spend another four hours carefully cleaning all the sand and salt off the equipment. But it’s worth it to them, to be able to produce a film showing audiences what these marvelous marine creatures are like up close.

Similar challenges faces the crew that produced Under the Sea 3D. Their camera was apparently much larger, weighing in at 1300 pounds in its waterproof housing. They spent more than 350 hours underwater and 110 days at sea. Their ten hours of raw footage were then edited down to a 42-minutes film – and it’s a gorgeous look at rarely seen creatures.

Filmed in Southern Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Great Barrier Reef, this movie’s goal is to let audiences see the strange and wonderful creatures that few people have ever had a chance to see in person. Between the incredible clarify of IMAX movies and the 3D effect (you wear very comfortable 3D glasses, nothing like those cheap cardboard things that come with 3D DVDs), you would think you were really there, and occasionally you almost want to reach out and touch things. (Well, you wouldn’t want to touch the jellyfish, or the venomous sea snakes.)

Can you imagine a garden of eels? That’s exactly what they look like, dozens or possibly hundreds of Garden Eels, their tails embedded in the sandy floor and their bodies extended vertically as they wait for food to swim by. Their bodies sway with the current, and you might think they were just some form of unusual vegetation – until they all suddenly retreat down into the sand at the approach of danger.

I had heard of a weedy sea dragon, but only because I got my son a marvelous book about the creation of the earth, Wonderful Earth!by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen, that tells of the amazing diversity of animal life God created. It doesn’t tell what a weedy sea dragon is, though. Now I know what one looks like, as well as the even more unlikely-looking leafy sea dragon.

We saw the courtship and mating of cuttlefish. We also saw a hungry cuttlefish catch and eat a crab (shell and all, of course). Speaking of meals, we watched a sea turtle enjoy one of its favorite meals – jellyfish. They are immune to its sting and happily munch away on its flesh (or whatever you call it that a jellyfish is made of). We witnessed predators (such as a blue-spotted stingray) bury themselves in the sand, only to lunge out and snatch their unwary prey as it came swimming by. We saw a small shark that walks on its fins along the ocean floor, instead of swimming.

No doubt everyone’s favorite creatures, though, were the Australian sea lions. They are playful and friendly, and, according to director Howard Hall, “among the most beautiful, with blonde fur and exceptionally expressive faces.” The film end with them coming right at the viewer, which of course is very effective in 3D. They distinctly reminded us of our puppy, as she approaches to kiss our faces, and I wondered what it would be like to be kissed by a sea lion.

We also wondered how the crew persuaded the sea lions to approach so close to the camera to get those shots. But apparently the sea lions needed no persuasion. “They were so enthralled by their own reflections in the large IMAX housing lens port that we had to repeatedly shoo them away in order to photograph them.”

One Response to Movies: Under the Sea 3D / Dolphins

  1. Margaret Packard says:

    What fascinating creatures! I searched Google for sea dragons and found some gorgeous pictures (not 3D, of course, but fantastic).

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